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South Carolina

EPA proposes big fine, improvement plan for York County paper plant accused of foul odors

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The New Indy Containerboard paper mill in Catawba, South Carolina.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recommended a $1.1 million fine for a York County, South Carolina, paper mill and ordered the company to continue improving operations after three federal lawsuits were filed.

Tens of thousands of complaints have been made about odors sickening nearby residents. The most recent lawsuit says the problems started when New-Indy Catawba LLC converted the Charlotte-area mill's production from bleached paper to brown paper for containerboard last November.

The EPA said in a news release that New-Indy has entered a consent decree in court with the agency and agreed to make improvements to prevent hydrogen sulfide from being released into the air at levels that “endanger people’s health.’’

Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs. Exposure to the gas can irritate people’s eyes, noses and throats and could make it hard for people with asthma to breathe, according to the EPA.

“(Wednesday’s) proposed settlement ensures that surrounding communities will be protected from unlawful pollution from this facility through mandatory long-term improvements designed to ensure cleaner air, which all Americans deserve,” Larry Starfield, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in the news release.

Catawba New-Indy publishes emissions findings from on- and 0ff-site monitors on its website daily. The company said it’s been adjusting its production process and that the plant’s on-site monitors haven’t detected any excessive hydrogen sulfide since September. New Indy’s off-site monitors have never detected excessive hydrogen sulfide levels, according to the company.

“New-Indy worked with the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve this matter and will comply fully with the agreement,” Tony Hobson, the mill’s manager, said in a statement provided by the company. “The mill has cooperated with regulators throughout the process, implemented a long list of improvements, and is grateful for this positive and constructive outcome.”

The proposed settlement forces the plant to control hazardous air emissions, improve its wastewater treatment system and set up a carbon filtration system to minimize air emmissions, among other things.

The EPA’s action follows an emergency order in May telling the company to address problems at the plant. A federal judge would have to approve the fine and pollution control order.